Master of None, the Aziz Ansari vehicle which returns for a second season on May 12th, exquisitely describes the predicament faced by any creative, stereotype-defying millennial, surviving but not quite thriving in the West.
Some of its most on-the-nose passages are also its most affecting—like the scene in which H. Jon Benjamin’s character’s likens relationships to the construction of a fire; or like the kaleidoscopic sequence that brings (Ansari’s character) Dev’s reading from The Bell Jar to life. These moments are so poetically scripted, and feel so real and well-earned, that I can’t help but be overcome—even on the second or third viewing. Any use of “Return of the Mack” as a cultural signifier is liable to leave me a wreck, but the scene in which Dev reconnects with an erstwhile flame to the strains of Mark Morrison, only to once again have his hopes dashed, is particularly overwhelming.
Happily (for those of a melancholic disposition), Ansari doesn’t have a monopoly over these emotions. Similar feelings form fibres in the tapestry of work by Canadian jizz-jazz (self-described, don’t shoot me) troubadour Mac DeMarco. DeMarco initially found notoriety for his budget takes on glam and jangle-pop, and the raucous live performances that accompanied them. Now, less faint praise is conferred upon him, as the reflective strain in his work shifts from recessive to dominant.
Next week DeMarco releases an album, This Old Dog, which has been teased via several songs brimming over in self-analysis. The highlight, at least in terms of leaving a lasting impression, is “On The Level”, a woozy slow jam that wafts along cotton-wool pads. Atop, the lead synth is uneasy, with a vinegary aftertouch. The insistent chords are slightly ring-modulated, and highly querulous.
The song is instantly relatable to DeMarco’s earlier “Chamber Of Reflection”, which pits identical synth patches and bassline to those in “On The Level” against an ode to self-discovery. “Spend some time away / Getting ready for the day you’re born again”, DeMarco sings, world-wizened, in reference to a Masonic ritual. The repetition of “Alone again!”, intoned with surprising acceptance, is difficult to dislodge from one’s mind. In the second verse, he is even more zen, singing: “No use looking out / It’s within that creates that lonely feeling”.
In the newer song, evoking a George Michael-circa-Older frankness, DeMarco begins by singing, “Boy! This could be your year / Make your old man proud of you”. It’s one of many references to his father on the album (see “My Old Man”, with its graceful sigh, “Ah! Oh! / Looks like / I’m seeing / More of my old man in me”), a lightly-worn connection to Master of None, which features regular appearances from Aziz Ansari’s real-life father, playing Dev’s father.
DeMarco’s attitudes towards the past, and his past, are similarly freighted and complex. On an early fan-favourite, “Ode To Viceroy”, a crepuscular atmosphere looms over a much-loved cheap cigarette; Viceroys are the witness to his debauchery and his growing older. “Smoke ya till I’m dying,” he sings, “don’t take me for a fool now”. Critics took him for a lovable rogue, with his dollar-store interpretations of Steely Dan and other yacht rock mainstays. But they forgot the lessons of Shakespeare—that the jester is often the one striking upon the purest truths. Indeed, on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast the host took him to task for his admiration of The Doobie Brothers inter alia. DeMarco’s heartfelt defence of their knowing sophistication and emotional detachment is well worth a listen, and can’t be done justice to in a short quotation.
Of course the musician we most relate to Aziz Ansari is his old dining companion James Murphy, with whom he famously raised all kinds of hell in Tokyo six years ago. (The presence of Momofuku’s David Chang made it a hipster troika.) Murphy’s own vehicle, LCD Soundsystem, is in the throes of revenance as I write this, a double A side having been released to digital channels over the last 24 hours. But it’s DeMarco, I think, who most readily adopts the persona of the “master of none”, uncertain of his position between the milestones of youth and fatherhood, in an age that’s so ready to frown upon those who disabuse dogma.